‘If it is a girl…’ – 27th June 2021 – Fourth Sunday after Trinity

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The Readings

Wisdom 1.13-15, 2.23-24
Because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

For God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

Mark 5.21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


Scripture quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Alan Billings

Let me read you part of a letter. It was written rather a long time ago. In fact about the time of Jesus. But it has survived. It’s from a man, called Hilarion, a Roman, who is working away from home in the port of Alexandria, in Egypt.

Hilarion writes to Alis, his wife, who is not with him, but is at home with their child. And Alis is pregnant.

Hilarion writes home because some of the others he is working with may be returning ahead of him and he doesn’t want Alis to worry. Miraculously the letter has survived, and this is part of what he says – take your hankies out because it’s really so loving and tender:

Hilarion to Alis … Know that we are still in Alexandria. Do not be anxious; if they really go home, I will remain in Alexandria. I beg and entreat you, take care of the little one, and as soon as we receive our pay I will send it up to you.

Now put the hankie away and brace yourself, because he goes on to talk about the pregnancy.

If by chance you bear a child, and if it is a boy, let it be; if it is a girl, cast it out.

Hankies again for the last sentence. She had asked him not to forget her while away, and so he says:

How can I forget you? I beg you then, not to be anxious.

The first time I read that letter I had to re-read it to be sure I had read it aright. Such tenderness:
take care of our little one …

But then in the next breath, such callousness:
if it is a girl, cast it out.

How could someone capable of showing such affection and love towards his wife and child one moment, express such terrible sentiments towards the unborn child, should it be female, the next. The answer, of course, is that this is a society that does not rate females as highly as males.

But now contrast that with what we read in today’s gospel. Here is another man, Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue – a sort of churchwarden – whose little girl is sick, very sick, in fact, dying. He could have shrugged his shoulders and taken the view that, though sad, it would be one less mouth to feed, one less who would always be a financial burden until he could marry her off to a man with a job – a Hilarion type, perhaps.

But Jairus is not like that at all. He clearly loves his twelve year old daughter and will do anything for her. He will even go begging for help from this probably rather dishevelled travelling preacher, Jesus, form the insignificant village of Nazareth.

So he seeks out Jesus and throws himself down in front of him and asks for help. All very undignified for a churchwarden; but he’s desperate because the little girl is at the point of death.

I quoted from that contemporary letter to draw out something that we, reading Mark’s gospel in 2021, might not fully appreciate. Namely, this loving attitude towards children who were female was not universally shared in the society in which Jesus lived. They could be regarded as a burden, literally more trouble than they were worth. It’s important that we recognise that this was not the view of Jesus. This is why he goes with Jairus to the house and heals the little girl.

But before he does that, Mark, who compiled this gospel adds another story. Again, I think we need to appreciate just what Like is doing here. Having told us through the story of Jairus and his daughter about the attitude of Jesus towards female children, he then wants to make it clear that this is not just Jesus being kind to a child, who happens to be a girl. This is the attitude of Jesus to all who are female, whether children or adult. The two stories are put together to make just this point.

And the point is strongly made.

The woman in the crowd who seeks out Jesus is anxious because her utterly debilitating medical condition – menstrual bleeding that never stops - is something that she would almost certainly be ashamed of.

The social conventions of the time required women to keep away from others during the times of their periods – something that for her would mean a permanent lock-down. So she approaches Jesus gingerly and fearfully.

And for that reason, when she touches his garments. he stops and speak to her: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

Sometimes, when we hear the gospels, we don’t spend enough time just thinking about what they are saying to us. Sometimes it takes the church centuries before important truths that have always been there, jump out at us and we think them obvious.

The attitude of Jesus towards women was faithfully captured by the gospel writer 2000 years ago. To our eternal shame we have often not noticed.

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara W

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth, your saving health among all nations …

We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic.
We pray for those countries currently suffering from upsurges of the virus, thinking especially of those in South America and in the Indian subcontinent: please help them to keep their most vulnerable citizens safe.
We pray for the worldwide success of vaccination campaigns, and that vaccines are made available to all countries, regardless of their wealth or lack thereof. We pray that we can play our part in this!
We pray for those suffering from loneliness and isolation: please help us to be your agents in bringing them contact and comfort.
We pray for those affected by any sort of relationship breakdown at this loneliest of times: please help us to notice when people need help and to bring them the help they need.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life …

We pray for all Christian communities in this country and around the world, as we strive to find new ways of being your family that do not put each other in danger during this pandemic. Please help us to reach those who most need your comfort and help.

We pray especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. Mary’s Walkley as we learn new ways of joining together in love for you. Please help us to feel your presence in a world turned upside down and to share that presence with others.

Today we pray for your church in Canada, and especially for all those denominations involved in running the residential schools where indigenous families were forced to send their children. We pray for all the indigenous children who were abused and neglected while attending those institutions. Torn from their families, forbidden to speak their own languages, starved as a result of extreme and intentional underfunding by the federal government that failed these children by not acknowledging their worth, these children suffered beyond our comprehension and so very many of them died there alone, never returned to their families, even in death. Please help all Canadians to recognise the wrongs done these children, in which so many of us were unknowingly complicit, and to help the bereaved families to find their children’s bodies.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles …

In moments of peace and contemplation, we name to you all those known to us who are suffering. Please care for them and for all those of whose suffering we are unaware.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints …

We name to you in our hearts all those known to us both near and far, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to their families and friends at this time of grief.

Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000